NSW premier appoints ‘pro-lifer’ to women’s portfolio

With Donald Trump’s attack on abortion rights sweeping the US – including the withdrawal of international aid money from organisations that discuss abortion access and looming executive orders that are rumoured to allow companies in the US to discriminate against women who have an abortion – 1950s-style open misogyny is back on the agenda for the ruling class.

In NSW, new premier Gladys Berejiklian has appointed a staunchly anti-abortion Liberal, Tanya Davies, to the post of women’s minister. This is a slap in the face to women across NSW who already have a legally tenuous right to an abortion.

As recently as 2013, a “foetal personhood” law, designed to undermine access to abortion, passed the NSW lower house and came close to becoming law. Both Liberal and Labor politicians were allowed a so-called “conscience vote” on the bill, so that those who held them were free to express their reactionary views publicly. The bill was dropped after a series of street protests and a corruption crisis around then premier Barry O’Farrell forced the Liberals to let the bill expire along with O’Farrell’s career.

Abortion is already considered a criminal act in NSW and Queensland. In these states, relevant legislation does not recognise a women’s right simply to choose to have an abortion. A government fact sheet makes clear: “[women] are not entitled to abortion on demand”.

 Instead, for women and doctors, it is criminal to procure or to provide an abortion unless the doctor finds a medical justification to end a pregnancy. A legal case 40 years ago decided that what this meant was that “the operation was necessary to preserve the woman involved from serious danger”.

In practice, many health care professionals carry out abortions without demanding that a woman give a medical reason for ending a pregnancy. But the criminalisation of abortion on demand means there is a sexist stigma around women’s access to the procedure, and flimsy legal protections for women’s reproductive rights.

Socialists have always demanded that abortion be struck off the criminal code, and that it be free and fully accessible throughout all stages of pregnancy. This is the only way that women, particularly working class women, genuinely have the right to choose.

In the US, abortion rights are wildly more popular than Donald Trump, with 50 percent identifying as pro-choice. In Australia, the divide between the mass opinion and the conservative zealots in government is more stark, with 61 percent unconditionally supporting a woman’s right to choose. But with Trump in the White House and Davies in NSW parliament, it’s vital that we stand up to the bigots and demand “Back to the backyards, no way!”